Sylvain White’s adaptation of the Vertigo Comics series is a fun and giddy throwback to the action movies of the ’80s, which may have lacked substance but were never short on style. Sure, it’s derivative and preposterous, but The Losers is exciting, has some deft comedy, and the cast dive into this material with a reckless abandon that’s always fun to watch. For audiences who enjoy lovingly crafted mayhem, The Losers delivers with style and panache.
Clay. Jensen. Roque. Pooch. Cougar. No, not that kind of cougar. These five men comprise an elite U.S. fighting force deployed into Bolivia to dispatch a drug lord with extreme prejudice. All they have to do is mark the target for the incoming fighters. Fair enough, until they discover that there are children on site and Clay tries to abort the operation. That puts him on the bad side of Max (Jason Patric), a sleazy intelligence operative who doesn’t appreciate Clay’s input and orders the bombing to proceed. Though the team manages to rescue the children and get them onto a chopper intended for The Losers’ evacuation, the helicopter’s blasted out of the sky by a fighter sent by Max.
Nice going, guys. Only five minutes into the movie and you’re not exactly instilling us with confidence in your judgement or operational skills.
We catch up with the team a few months later, as they’re productively spending their time hiding in Bolivia. Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) realizes that hiding’s not a viable long term plan when he’s contacted by Aisha (Zoe Saldana). “Contacted” might be the wrong verb. After he invites her back to his hotel room, they get into a long, elaborately choreographed fight scene that might be the most violent metaphor for foreplay I’ve ever seen on film. It seems like that’s the effect White’s aiming for, anyway. It all ends happily when Clay discovers that he and Aisha have something special in common: They both want Max dead. The Losers have the combat skills Aisha needs. Aisha can sneak The Losers back into the United States. Everybody wins.
With the pre-requisite exposition complete, White spends the remaining screen time bombarding the audience with kinetics and carnage that halt just long enough to squeeze in a couple of frisky moments between Clay and Aisha. They’re awfully good kinetics and carnage, too. White’s visual style brings to mind a mutant hybrid between Quentin Tarantino and Sergio Leone, a good mix for this sort of revenge flick.
Unfortunately, the story’s nothing special. It’s Madman Threatens Planet With Doomsday Weapons Redux with Patric playing said madman like an actor who couldn’t make the grade at a Bond audition. Max is a dead-end as a villain, bereft of charisma and anything resembling wit, despite the filmmakers’ best efforts to feed some good lines to Patric. The movie’s so much fun otherwise, it’s a shame more thought and effort weren’t put into The Losers’ nemesis.
That’s forgivable, because the rest of the cast brings a new level of dysfunctional glory to the movie. Anderson does a beautiful job playing the beleaguered leader while Chris Evans takes the socially maladjusted hacker stereotype and turns Jensen into the funniest, most charismatic specimen of that stereotype I’ve ever seen. His rendition of Don’t Stop Believin’ makes the movie worth seeing. The cast play their parts to perfection, turning the script’s character moments into minor masterworks of tension, duplicity, and paranoia.
The Losers is good, breezy fun, and I mean that as high praise. Too few movies that promise lighthearted fun actually deliver the goods, but The Losers is a deftly executed thrill ride that should please fans of old-school action movies.